Billiard balls in a sock, gang rape in a greenhouse, teenage suicide . . . it’s all here in Alan Clarke’s brutal look at life in a British Borstal.
Carlin (Ray “I’m the daddy now!” Winstone) is the focus of this remake of a 1977 made-for-TV Play For Today drama banned by the BBC.
The film portrays a vicious system and doesn’t pull any punches. Into this inhuman system come three new inmates, Angel (Alrick Riley), Davis (Julian Firth) and Carlin (Winstone), who has been transferred from another Borstal for retaliation against violent officers.
Carlin is beaten up by warders as soon as he arrives to demonstrate their intention of knocking the resistance out of him right from the start. One of the most vicious warders is Sands (John Judd), a senior officer.
Carlin’s arrival is also seen as a threat by the reigning “daddy” named Banks (John Blundell) who runs a protection racket among the boys.
Brutalised by a system that likes to stir up hostility between groups, Carlin realises that he can only survive by using his great strength and violent personality, attributes that are denied to the vulnerable Davis, who is incapable of standing up to bullies like Banks.
Davis is physically abused by a group of inmates, rejected by the authorities and eventually takes his own life. Carlin’s response to this tragedy is to lead the inmates into a violent and climactic riot.
Shocking, violent and perhaps even more damning of the justice system than any prison story, Scum is arguably Clarke’s finest work.
The harshness is intensified by the complete lack of music, and the message is clear; you are in a vicious circle – you can never get out – abandon all hope.